Practice art work

From the archives. This goes back quite a few years. Before social media. And iPhones. How did I manage to create a regular comic strip with a full-time day job?

In truth it took a few years. Little by little. The style developed from pen and brush inking techniques — more realistic illustrations — to Sharpie® marker and Sakura Micron pen illustrations — more graphic and cartoonish. The intent was to streamline the process and art style in order to work quicker. However, the reality is that the graphic, cartoonish style takes just as much time as pen and brush. Just in different applications.

The character remains unnamed — loosely referred to as a young artist. Dressed with black turtleneck and unkept hair. The comic strip ran for maybe a year before the newspaper ended publication. A lot of newspapers and magazines shuddered that year.

I return to the “young artist.” To practice art work. A creative workout. Similar to physical fitness routines. An effort to keep the motor skills of drawing and illustration in shape.

Recent practice comic strips created remain unpublished. Private exercises. Not published in an independent newspaper. Not for public show on Instagram. Or Facebook. I do not have accounts on those social media platforms.

I may share them here. This has become a digital repository of material I find in old art portfolios and sketch books.

Comic book pages found

“What’s that?”
 
I turned to give the kidlinger a better view. 
 
“Did you draw all that?”
 
I nodded. 
 
Three years ago I rediscovered these 11 inch by 17 inch pages. Illustrated comic book pages hidden in a storage container. A gray Rubbermaid® Roughneck® storage tote of the 18 gallon variety. I stored art supplies, books, family keepsakes, manuscripts, and tools in dozens of similar totes. Living in a humid subtropic climate at the time, I did this to avoid water damage and mold ruining art and other supplies. Additionally, heavy duty polypropylene bags also prevent mold and water damage. To offer an added level of protection I used the technique of poly bagging art pages and then placing them within totes. When I moved across the country this also acted as a good way to pack.
 
However, that was not the case with these pages of art I discovered three years ago. Like an archeologist, I excavated those pages from a gray Rubbermaid®  tote. They were loose in the tote. Not poly bagged. Print samples of graphic design projects filled the tote as well. And also old newspapers and magazines. Either these publications featured something I wrote or something I designed.
 
In an effort to preserve the illustrated comic book pages, I found an old presentation book used for interviews. The Itoya Original Art Portfolio presentation books work the best. Good for professional presentation and storage.
 
During the holiday season I found one of the portfolio books with those illustrated comic book pages. Examined them again. This time one of the kidlingers was spying over my shoulder. 
 
“These are really good,” the kidlinger said. “Better than I can draw.”
 
“These are practice pages.” I said. Paused to let the kidlinger read the panels on the page. For a brief moment a wave of vulnerability washed over me. A child-like anxiety of examinations. The kind of fear I had when a school teacher reviewed my arithmetic work during class. Found an error and announced it so that all the class might hear. Why had I felt that way about my child reading this page? There were no objectionable elements to the story. Nor art. Nothing inappropriate for the kidlinger’s age. The moment passed.
 
“What language is this?” Kidlinger pointed at one of the panels on the page. 
 
“German.” I answered. “Deutsche.” 
 
The kidlinger hesitated. I considered translating the passage: Im Schatten sah ich. . .
 
“Lines from a German poem,” I said. “I added it to the story to help me remember the poem.”
 
Or to add texture to the short slice-of-life comic book story I composed. Sequential art as some have called it. A clever way of renaming comic book art.
 
I did not purchase my own comic book until I was in high school. An art teacher suggested that it may be a good way to study human anatomy. And it was. Exaggerated, dynamic anatomy. Superhero comic books were the only type sold at the local gas station on the way to school. The public library carried collections of Peanuts. But nothing like Superman or Batman. They did, however, carry the Classics Illustrated book series. Excalibur was the name of the comic book I bought at the gas station.
 
Though superhero comic books introduced me to sequential art, it was the slice-of-life stories that intrigued me. At the time, I had not heard of nor read American Splendor, Berlin, Cerebus, or Strangers in Paradise. But that was the direction I was headed creatively.
 
I probably added lines of German poetry to seem more sophisticated. To elevate comic book pages to sequential art.
 
“You wrote each of these stories, too?”
 
“Yes,” I answered the kidlinger. “Every one.”
 
I started to say something. To explain that these were practice stories and drawings. I wrote the script and illustrated the pages a decade ago. No. Maybe two. Each page, each panel pencilled and inked with crow quill and brush. It was practice for greater things.
 
My goal in those days was to publish a comic book or a childrens book. I did not know how. But the owner of a comic book store suggested I visit some comic book conventions. I did. And even booked a table on artists alley for a couple comic cons.
 
Artists alleys are a feature in nearly every comic con. The alleys feature artists and writers showing their work in hopes of securing a job with a major publisher. Or any publisher for that matter. Or trying to sell their own artwork. I met several artist and writers at these comic cons. And learned how hard I needed to work. Over time, I connected with writers and got a few independent projects. Some of them published. Most remained unpublished.
 
The kidlinger flipped through the entire portfolio. Read through several 2-page and 5-page stories.
 
“Nice,” said the kidlinger. An expression newly formed in the teenager’s mind to mean awesome or fantastic or good.
 
“What do you think?” I asked. 
 
“I don’t know,” said the kidlinger and ambled out of the room. 
 
I thought about that for awhile. What had the kidlinger found in looking through these pages? These artifacts? In a way, this portfolio is a childrens book for at least one child — my child — mein Kind. But these pages remain unpublished. Hidden in a black portfolio book. Even a fragment of a German poem remained hidden: Im Schatten sah ich/Ein Blümchen stehn. . .
 
I stumble through a translation:
 
In shadow I saw
a flower stand. . .
 
Or maybe:
 
In shade I saw
a flower grow. . . 
 
What is that? Goethe? Was I reading Goethe back then?
 
I will not deny the desire that someday I would like these early drawings and writings published. But why? Maybe my desire is misplaced. Maybe these pages should remain in the shadow. In the shade. They are practice pages after all.
 
And then I have discovered something else. I was reading Goethe when I illustrated those pages. A fragment from Goethe’s poem “Gefunden.” Or, in English, “Found.”

Raised cup to invite the moon

 

Bookshelf art – before and after

It was cold. A political rally mangled traffic downtown. Everything seemed off schedule. I missed the street car to the train station by minutes and had to walk. The winter weather depleted the battery of my smartphone. Commuters waited at the Intermodal. The last train of the night was late.

There was a special one-hour podcast on obscure tunes from the Real Book loaded on my smartphone. I wanted to listen to jazz music. But I didn’t want to run out of battery. In case the train was delayed. And I had to call my wife to pick me up.

The previous weekend I checked out a book of poetry from the public library. A collection of poems, translated into English, of Li Po. Before I knew it I had found a friend. The translator made it inviting to enter the world and work of Li Po.

Soon the train arrived and I boarded. Found a seat. Plugged my phone into the outlet. Opened the book and continued reading. The train passed over the river and had nearly cleared the Third Ward when I caught a glimpsed of the moon over Lake Michigan.

“I raise my cup to invite the bright moon, . . .” wrote Li Po.

Maybe that endured me to Li Po. Or at least inspired me to feature an illustration of Li Po on a bookshelf I built this summer.

There are a couple Li Po illustrations I made during the last year or so. But the one for the new bookshelf is the most ambitious and detailed. Maybe I will share some posts about the bookshelf project with you later. I had considered writing a series of short posts about how it all came together. Sort of a how-to, or how it was done, type of posts. But the story about why I chose to decorate the sides of the bookshelf seems to interest people more than how I built it.

As the nights grow longer and colder, the illustrated bookshelf is now installed in the living room.

Try again another night

How long did I look at this drawing the other night? 15 minutes? 30 minutes?

Calculated the time it would take to complete the drawing. Did I have the time?

Considered if the time spent on this illustration was valuable.

Too late. A kidlinger requested help. Followed by a short list of other household chores.

The illustration was placed back in the portfolio with 60 other drawings in various stages of completion.

Try it again another night.

Finish what was started

 

One of the challenges of an artist and designer is the amount of unfinished sketches or mock-ups (a working sample of an illustration or design) that collect over the years.

Found a unfinished illustration from over five years ago. Decided to finish the ink drawing. Added watercolor as a painting exercise.

Never too late to complete an unfinished illustration.

A good test of skills


Tested a couple old brushes using a dozen watercolor half pans on illustration paper. Purchased the art supplies for a book cover illustration project a few years ago. Have not had the occasion to use them since then. Apart from recreational sketches and practice.


Painted some studies of graphic design advertisement posters from the 1960s. Muscle memory atrophied more than expected. How does the aphorism go? Either control the watercolors or they will control the painting. Some clumsy mistakes. A good test of skills. Not ready to paint a book cover illustration. But the exercise warmed up the muscles and mind to consider more opportunities.

Inktober — Day 23 #inktober #inktober2019

Tried to accomplish four Inktober prompts in this illustration — days 20 through 23. Inspiration for the piece comes from reading the poetry of Li Po.

Enjoy — and keep inking!

Inktober — Day 15 #inktober #inktober2019

Inktober’s rules are simple: draw something in ink each day for the month of October, post it online, hashtag it, and repeat. So, if I draw three panels in a single day, does that make up for two missed days?

Ever watch those drawing challenges? Do a drawing or illustration in 10 minute, 1 minute, and 10 seconds. My self-imposed challenge for day 15 was two hours.

The prompt that day was “legend.” The inspiration: two-fold. One, I revived a cartoon character I created long, long ago. Two, an homage to Starchild, created by James A. Owen.

The big challenge for me is that a two-hour block of time is a lavish luxury for me. It means I can not begin until the work day is done, household chores completed, and kidlingers in bed. Mostly.

Before I finished the inking process, one of the kidlingers reminded me that within the two-hour window I stopped twice. Once to spend 15 minutes brewing a pot of tea for the night owls of the household. And once to re-tuck a younger kidlinger into bed.

Hope you enjoy the results of day 15 of Inktober.

Strange Throwback Thursday

Comic Stroll 2013

 

After nearly a six-year hiatus, I was excited to see a project that began with notes and sketches transform into a published comic strip. Even if it was a one-off. Even if I had to hand the responsibility of drawing each panel to someone else. It was done.

I had imagined that the creative non-fiction comic story I crafted would earn some interest. Maybe it would open a few doors to an audience. And allow me to write and illustrate. Even earn some money. Maybe I would quit my day job and provide for my household by doing something I loved. Telling stories. And drawing pictures.

That was five years ago.

A few weeks ago I found a box in the garage. It had several copies of a publication that printed my comic strip. I glanced over the pages and then placed them back into the box. I also found several books. Opened one book I remembered enjoying.

“What’s that?” asked one of the children.

“It’s a collection of comic strips.”

“Oh.”

I pulled a copy from the box and gave it to the child.

“There’s a story in there I wrote.” I said. “See if you can find it.”

The child took the copy of Comic Stroll and headed off to the couch in the living room.

I flipped through the pages of the book I had found. Read a few highlights.

Yeah, I resemble that, I thought to myself after reading a few lines at the end of the book. The author referenced a friend of his who gave up an art gig for a corporate job in order to provide for his family.

Yeah. I know what that is like.

How many comic pages might I have written and illustrated if I had. . . Well, what-ifs and might-have-beens are dangerous paths to pursue. What you did, great or small, is what matters.

Watching my progeny spend an afternoon reading comic strips I had a hand in creating was a pleasure.

NOTES:
Comic Stroll, a publication of the Southeast chapter of the National Cartoonist Society, featured a collection of previously unpublished comic strips. You can read the whole journey of what started in November 2005 as a couple drawings and became a creative non-fiction comic strip:
[1] Comics and Narrative Non-Fiction
[2] Comics and Narrative Non-Fiction Continued
[3] Narrative Non-Fiction Comics: part 3
[4] Narrative Non-Fiction Comics: part 4
[5] Narrative Non-Fiction Comics: part 5
[6] Narrative Non-Fiction Comics: UPDATE
[7] Narrative Non-Fiction Comics: UPDATE
[8] Strange Familiar Place comic series
[9] Strange Familiar Place returns
[10] The return of Strange Familiar Place to print

I went to school for graphic design

Sharing this post[1] with you from nikography — plus my own story afterwards. Because graphic design is hard work.

i went to school for graphic design, and did not spend my nights getting drunk. instead, i worked my ass off, spent most of my outside-class time learning/trying/doing as much as possible, and then got an awesome job after graduating.

protip: if you’re lucky enough . . . to be in college, you should be spending all available time learning, trying, making things, messing things up, experimenting and READING. . . .

i didn’t waste a single day. and neither should you. build your momentum and go with it.

for the but-i’m-an-artist’s: you want money? learn a technical skill related to your field and get good at it. then get better at it. . . . just sayin’.

final note: i had a BLAST in college, and miss it like crazy. working hard does not mean no-fun-allowed, it means relax harder 🙂 [2][3]
nikography


I had the unique opportunity to enter a graphic design career during the transitional years of the digital revolution in design (somewhere between the Upper Peasealithic and Macolithic periods). The university offered computer graphics classes during the final year of the academic program called commercial arts. The degree was catalogued as a bachelors in science (as opposed to a bachelors in arts).

All other graphic design classes were hands-on, analog, technical application of composition, typography, illustration, photography, color theory, and so on. And for that fact, I am grateful.

One afternoon, during critique of students’ work a professor called two of my classmates out of the room. Most of the students knew why. One of the two owned a personal computer (yes, this is back in the paleolithic days before wifi, laptops, and mobile phones). They did their copy layout (design jargon for arranging blocks of advertising text — usually Lorem Ipsum — on a page) using a personal computer and printer. Then they inked over the print outs and submitted their work. Or so the rumors went.

No one else in the class owned a personal computer and had to lay out the text for a three-panel brochure by hand using rulers, graphite and non-photo blue pencils and rubylith film for color overlays.

The professor had caught them cheating. They denied using a computer to do the text layout. Hushed conversation relayed that they were nearly suspended for the act.

The recollection of that afternoon seems so arcane and archaic. The level of craftsmanship and skill required to accomplish print layout work was demanding. Each design student spent hours a day in the studio working on each project.

It used to take weeks of hand-lettering and composing mock-up pages before submitting the design samples for ad director and client reviews. Now it takes me a morning to generate three design layout drafts of a two- to four-page project.

The digital revolution allowed for faster turnaround of design projects, but graphic design is still hard work. It is something I try to impart to interns and young designers.

If graphic design is not good, hard, rewarding work, than you’re doing it wrong.


NOTES:


[1] The original post was shared from Tumblr, January 20, 2010. https://coffeehousejunkie.net/2010/01/20/nikography-i-went-to-school-for-graphic-design/

[2] orginal image via synecdoche